Newsroom overview

Who They Are
A national, born-digital publication focused on policy analysis and investigative journalism that has branched out into lifestyle, sports, and business coverage.
South Africa
Launched membership
Monthly unique visitors
Number of members
Percentage of revenue form membership
25 percent

When the Daily Maverick launched its Maverick Insiders program in 2018, two people were working on the membership effort. Two years on, the Maverick Insiders team has grown to seven, with roles including a general manager, membership retention manager, and marketing ninja. They have found that some areas need dedicated roles – such as events and retention – while others can see skills and responsibilities come together in unusual combinations. 

This case study explains what hires were made for the Insiders team, when, and why, as well as how the Insiders team now works together with the rest of the Daily Maverick newsroom.

Why this is important

The way the Daily Maverick grew its Maverick Insiders team offers one blueprint for staffing a full-service membership team – from product to community management, events to marketing, and tech to retention. The Insiders experience offers a great example of how to build gradually by prioritizing your membership needs, and then using that team to distribute membership efforts across your organization more widely.

What they did

Prior to the launch of Maverick Insiders, there were two people working on getting the program off the ground. Publisher Styli Charalambous led the planning of the program, acted as product manager, and secured buy-in throughout the company, while former head of product Brett Lensvelt considered how technology, editorial, and business, would all work together to implement the program. 

This two-person team worked with external developers for engineering and testing requirements as they built out an MVP. After that showed promise, they realized  that Insiders would need someone working on it full-time after launch.  Publisher Styli said they were looking for an “allrounder” to take on the coordination of member events, member-related copywriting, liaising with editorial, public speaking, and more. Francesca Beighton was hired two weeks after the program’s full launch, initially as a part-time community manager, but within two months this role went full time, and Beighton (now Maverick Insiders’ General Manager) was charged with running the program and building the membership team out. 

With member communication and engagement a high priority, this build-out began with graphic designer and community manager Sahra Heuwel, who was already a designer at the Daily Maverick. Her responsibilities include everything from creating forms and surveys, to designing direct mailers and banners, to managing comment moderators, researching new comments policies and platforms, answering member emails, and managing the inbox support team.

Five months after launch Tinashe Munyuki joined the team to help with inbox support. With maintaining hard-won members another top priority, he is now Membership Retention Manager.  At eight months, events specialist Nicole Williamson came on board (her job description grew to include “Live Journalism Manager” once the coronavirus pandemic arrived) , followed by Junior Membership Business Administrator Suleiman Krigga, and most recently Marketing Ninja Fiona Berning (full details of their each team members’ responsibilities can be found in The Results section). With the exception of Sahra and Head of Product Rowan Polovin, all team members were hired after Insiders launched. 

Beighton said: “I think if membership is working, you’ve got to be prepared to reinvest in people and training.”

Their next hire will be someone to cover member inbox support, currently the junior membership business administrator’s job, as well as bringing in freelancers to help with copywriting and design overflow.

The results

Today the Maverick Insiders team consists of seven people, with responsibilities broken down as follows:

  • Francesca Beighton, Maverick Insider General Manager: manages the MI team, edits the MI newsletter, drives membership growth, conceives and implements marketing plans, liaises with newsroom on all member-related initiatives, manages member benefit relationships
  • Tinashe Munyuki, Membership Retention Manager: manages retention and churn, manages MI inbox, provides technical support to MI community, leads tech training of support staff
  • Suleiman Krigga, Junior Membership Business Administrator: responds to community queries in MI inbox, assists with retention management
  • Nicole Williamson, Live Journalism Manager: concepts and implements events and webinars, manages speaker and sponsor relationships, handles logistics, manages budgets and invoices, assists with engaged journalism efforts
  • Fiona Berning, Marketing Ninja: implements and reports back on marketing and advertising campaigns, coordinates social media, provides design assistance
  • Sahra Heuwel, Community Manager & Graphic Designer: produces design elements for marketing and branding campaigns, provides membership support to MI community, liaison on community moderation, trains and manages member support staff
  • Rowan Polovin, Head of Product: project manages all technology related activities, tracks and analyses MI growth metrics

The team, Publisher Styli Charalambous, and Editor-in-Chief Branko Brikic meet weekly to discuss upcoming projects and challenges. There is also a weekly webinar and events meeting, and a weekly marketing meeting. Meetings to coordinate engaged journalism work remain ad-hoc, but they plan to formalize this process too. 

Team members report to General Manager Fran and work full time on membership, but Daily Maverick’s aim of being a memberful organization means the Insiders team get involved in other areas of the operation. Charalambous explained: “For example, webinars started out as a member benefit but evolved into live-journalism efforts to [serve] a wider audience that is now part of membership acquisition efforts. It’s run by the membership team and requires coordination with journalists and editors in the hosting of these events.”

“If membership is to really be about community building and for it to be a success, it’s our view it cannot be a siloed effort that sits on the side. It has to be integral to the entire organization and be the thing that brings it all together.”

What they learned

It’s crucial to have someone responsible for securing buy-in at the top. Particularly at the proposal and planning stage, this person will fight for resources to get things off the ground and act as a lobbyist or champion for membership more broadly across the organization.

Think outside of traditional role boundaries. Creating positions that play to each person’s varied skills and strengths. For example, Sahra Heuwel is both a community manager and graphic designer. General Manager Fran Beighton said Heuwel’s patience, calm, and natural problem-solving marked her out as a great fit for community management as well as graphic design, and the diversity this dual role offers keeps her stimulated.

Create career paths for people within your membership team. Fran said they are constantly thinking about how they can upskill their people. 

Staff elements that are central to your membership program accordingly. Be clear about how critical different skills and initiatives are to membership success, and prioritize those in your organizational chart. For Daily Maverick, this meant having a dedicated person to run and manage webinars and events.

A member saved is worth more than a member gained. In recognition of this, staffing retention efforts has been key for Maverick Insiders. 

Adequate training for membership staff requires time and space. The Insiders team has learned to step back and analyze what is and is not worth their effort so that they can refine their workload and make space for that training. For example, the team is careful not to spend time on unnecessary events, which Beighton defined as “putting on an event as a tick-box exercise as opposed to a genuine opportunity for an important discussion [and] engagement.” Other areas where the team have pulled back include unnecessary surveys or big-effort projects like referral programmes that don’t have the same level of return on effort. Beighton added that setting OKRs has allowed them to focus: “If it doesn’t serve our objective, it’s culled from the workload.

Key takeaways and cautionary notes

Prepare for success when starting out on your membership journey, and assess the resources that will need to be added every few months. You can “layer” new team members or skills onto the team in priority order. If you can afford it, it’s easier to scale back the resources you provide than to play catch-up. 

From Publisher Styli: “Membership touches every part of the business, every part of the business needs to be represented there, editorial, business, product and tech, finance might drop in, maybe account managers. We buy into the fact that membership is such an integral part of the organization’s effort/mission.”

Other resources

Disclosure: Membership Puzzle Project has provided support to the Daily Maverick’s membership program through the Membership in News Fund.